The Secretary of State's office has announced that I-28, the medical marijuana dispensary initiative, has qualified for the November 2 ballot.
Organizers of the I-28 campaign turned in 130,702 signatures, 85,848 of which turned out to be valid, narrowly exceeding the required number of 82,769 valid signatures. A separate campaign to legalize marijuana and sell it through state-run liquor stores went nowhere.
The idea behind I-28 is to allow people to set up nonprofit dispensaries for selling marijuana to people holding medical marijuana cards. The system would be overseen by the state health department.
Such a system would almost certainly result in a gold rush to tap into the growing market for legal weed, which has been lucratively exploited in California and Colorado. Marijuana is the nation's largest cash crop, and any move to update regulations controlling how it is grown and sold will create opportunities within Oregon's already sizable marijuana business (see the "by the numbers" chart to the left). Just because an operation is a nonprofit doesn't mean it can't bring in big money. The dispensaries also would bring new revenue into state government from license fees.
On the other hand, they could also create new challenges for law enforcement officers already overwhelmed with medical marijuana scams where growers cross the line between legal and illegal sales and produce way more bud than they are legally allowed, selling the excess for illicit profit.
The transition could be messy. It also may be inevitable. The Obama Administration has pledged not to crack down on medical marijuana, and history has shown that given the opportunity to liberalize marijuana laws, Oregon voters will do so, with each new vote bringing the state closer to legalization. In an Oregon Business poll conducted in May, more than 80% of voters favored legalizing marijuana.
Ben Jacklet is managing editor of Oregon Business.